War heroes honored at ‘Oscars for veterans’

WASHINGTON – There are plenty of awards ceremonies, but on Saturday a powerful one at the Renaissance Washington Hotel honored the country’s bravest.

The American Veterans Center recognized seven American war heroes who protected the country in conflicts ranging from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The center says that all recipients displayed bravery and valor above and beyond the call of duty during combat.

“It’s like the Oscars for veterans,” said AVC President James Roberts at the annual ceremony.

“The American Veterans Center wants to give these brave heroes an awards ceremony like top stage and screen actors get. They deserve this, as they’ve risked their lives and shaped our country’s history.”

Lt. General Frank E. Petersen Jr., retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, was one of the award recipients. He was the first black Marine Corps general and first black Marine aviator.

Now 81 and living in Kent Island, Md., the Kansas native joined the military in 1950 and flew fighter jets his entire career. He won the Raymond G. Davis award.

“I was shot down in combat in Vietnam. The ejection seat worked. So everything went OK,” joked Petersen, who said he felt humbled in the presence of other veterans.

“But to be able to lead a squadron of Marines in combat — that was the highest point in my career.”

Chester Nez, 92, the last living Navajo code talker and a double amputee, won an Audie Murphy award. The original code talkers, 29 Native Americans, were asked to come up with a code in their native language. It’s the only one in modern war to never be broken.

“I am very happy to have become one of the code talkers. I am very proud to have served my country,” said Nez.

Retired from the U.S. Army, Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen Jr., 90, also won an Audie award Sunday. The four-star general retired in 1983 and lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife.

“I claim to be in four wars, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War — ’cause the last time I was shot at was during the Cold War,” said Kroesen.

During his acceptance speech he was humbled of honor.

“And while I’m thanking people, I have a young lady over at the table,” Kroesen added. In a few months he and his wife will celebrate 70 years of marriage.

This year marked the 16th year for the conference and ceremony. AVC says the event has grown tremendously over the last several years and brings together America’s most distinguished and decorated veterans and active-duty service members to share experiences and lessons with fellow veterans.

The AVC began a partnership with the Department of Defense and The Pentagon Channel in 2012 to create “The American Veterans Center Honors,” the first and only televised awards show honoring U.S. veterans and active-military men and women.

The AVC website lists all seven honorees and their heroic efforts.

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